Socialist Worker

Government's insulting agenda

Issue No. 1829

'THE BIGGEST ever pay deal in NHS history.' That was a typical headline after the government announced a new pay package last week for NHS staff. The reality of the package, called 'Agenda for Change', is very different. GILL GEORGE, a health worker in Hackney, one of the poorest boroughs in Britain, gives ten reasons why health workers should oppose it.

1. It's not a 10 percent pay deal. All we are being offered is 3.225 percent per year for the next three years as a cost of living increase. Even the Department of Health says that few health workers should expect increases in the short term.

2. It's not about pay - it's about 'modernisation'. We know from the firefighters that means cuts. The deal allows NHS trusts to move work to lower paid staff and define 'new' jobs where they set the pay.

3. It's longer hours for hundreds of thousands of NHS staff. Everyone currently working less than 37.5 hours per week will have their hours increased to that level - with no extra pay. There is no mention of future reductions of hours when there are more staff.

4. It doesn't end low pay. The new minimum of £5.16 per hour is far below the Council of Europe's 'decency threshold' of £7.34.

5. It allows employers to stop automatic pay increases. Each scale has points where people have to pass 'competency tests' in order to progress. Each trust can set its own tests. We know how unfair these are likely to be.

6. It allows trusts to implement performance related pay. So we'll be paid according to targets rather than the care we give patients.

7. It makes 'job evaluation' the core determinant of pay. This pseudo-scientific process has been shown to always discriminate against women and black workers. Equal pay and comparability claims will become almost impossible.

8. It extends core working hours. Out of hours working for staff not on shifts will be outside the 7am to 7pm period. That means anyone could be rostered for a 7am start or a 7pm finish without overtime pay. Some professional staff will now have to work Saturday and Sunday mornings with no extra pay. So much for family friendly policies.

9. It reduces the starting salaries for some jobs. The Department of Health has already leaked that some starting salaries will be reduced.

10. It is about saving money, not a fair pay scheme. Even those of us who are supposed to get pay improvements under the deal won't get them immediately. The transitional arrangements mean that people will only move to their new salaries in steps over an extended period of time.

An attempt to divide and rule

THE GOVERNMENT has deliberately tried to set one group of public sector workers against another. It brought forward the announcement of the 'Agenda for Change' proposals in order to try to use it against the firefighters. It only very recently linked the three-year 10 percent (3.2 percent a year) pay offer with the 'Agenda for Change' proposals.

The offer is not signed, sealed and delivered. The deal has to go out to consultation and a ballot among union members. Unison, the biggest health union, is pledged to hold a special conference on the offer before it ballots its members on the deal.

The vast majority of health workers have been left completely in the dark about what is on offer. The negotiations have taken place behind closed doors. 'It is no coincidence that the government has introduced this now,' says Yunus Bakhsh, a nurse and a socialist on Unison's national executive. 'Health secretary Alan Milburn wanted to sell this as a brilliant deal. But the government wants to tie all health workers to a package that will mean just 3.2 percent a year rise for the next three years. We can't give any ground to the government's attempts to use health workers as a stick against the firefighters and other public sector workers.'

Lynn Hubbard is a health worker and Unison union rep at a hospital in Birmingham. She told Socialist Worker, 'Everyone at work is clear the government wants to divide health workers from the firefighters. Isn't it amazing that the government has spent the last four years discussing a pay deal but now, because it has faced action by the firefighters, it has suddenly come up with this deal? It is an attempt to do what they did in the miners' strike in the 1980s by trying to pay off other groups of workers. But in fact the pay deal is a bloody insult, and ties health workers into a paltry rise of just over 3.2 percent for the next three years. Even 10 percent for one year would still leave health workers struggling.'

Martin Bennell is a porter at St James's Hospital in Leeds. He says, 'The danger with this whole restructuring is that it can turn into a massive multiskilling exercise. 'As a porter, for example, I could be expected to take on jobs that healthcare assistants currently do. There is nothing wrong with workers taking on different tasks - the bottom line is that we will be expected to do this with less staff, privatisation and no new resources. Some workers may get slightly more money, but at what price? We know what 'modernisation' means - it will be used as an excuse to make cuts.'

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Sat 7 Dec 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1829
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